The Department for Education will get greater oversight of academy governance as part of plans to strip back the Education and Skills Funding Agency to focus on finances.
Non-financial regulatory functions for academies and oversight of new schools and trusts currently held by the ESFA will be handed to the DfE under plans set out in response to a review of the agency today.
It comes after Schools Week revealed plans to create a new regional schools commissioner for London and to make changes to other regions to bring them into line with the structures used by other government departments.
Today’s documents confirm plans to align areas as part of the creation of a new “regions group”, which will provide “integrated delivery for schools and local authorities, including children’s social care and Special Educational Needs and Disabilities”.
The government will also create a new “strategic centre” to create “better oversight”, drawing together the DfE’s work and “setting direction”.
There will also be a “dedicated” group focused on schools and the education secretary’s “mission that through schools every child will get a great education and the right support”. The DfE will also set up similar groups for families and skills.
However, further details about how the group will operate and what its responsibilities and powers will be have not been published.
DfE permanent secretary Susan Acland-Hood said the changes would mean the DfE is “organised in a way that is clear and makes sense to the stakeholders we work with and will help us deliver the department’s priorities on skills, schools and families”.
“We are serious about our purpose – to help children and learners up and down the country to realise their potential. To make sure the department is best organised to deliver on this we are making some changes.”
ESFA’s non-financial schools functions to go to DfE
The review of the ESFA, carried out by Sir David Bell, recommended that the agency should “refocus on its core funding delivery role”, with its non-financial responsibilities for schools handed to the DfE.
The review found that the ESFA’s “close integration” into the DfE’s governance structures risked a “lack of clarity in roles, responsibilities and accountabilities across ESFA and DfE, particularly where there are shared interests”.
All of the schools-related recommendations were agreed by the DfE.
Funding delivery functions, including compliance and assurance for academies and maintained schools, will remain in the “refocused” funding agency.
But functions not linked to funding delivery or required for “assurance” will be moved to the DfE.
This means that the DfE will take over non-financial regulatory functions for academies, as well as functions “related to school/trust governance”.
New trust and free school activity, as well as engagement with University Technical Colleges, will also move to the DfE.
The DfE has also agreed to “consider” bringing complaints functions for maintained schools and academies together in a “fully centralised complaints system within the department”.
Ownership of the academy trust handbook will move to the DfE’s school systems, academies and reform directorate “unless the focus of the handbook is narrowed back towards a tool for financial management only”.
As revealed by Schools Week last week, the ESFA’s responsibilities for post-16 and skills policy and implementation will also be moved to the DfE.